Category Archives: Fruit cakes

Mary Berry’s English Cherry Cake

It’s back to the blog this week after a bit of a break.  It’s been a time thing. Back in September I imagined that, with my little boy at school five days a week, I’d have more time for baking and photographing and writing about it.  Turned out I was being ultra-naive.  With a three o’clock pick up time, I don’t have time to make complicated things any more (unless I can spread them over several days) and taking photos has become really difficult, given that I have to be on the look out for the sticky fingers that are itching to “help”.

For the next few weeks, I’ve decided not to be particularly adventurous, I’m going to try a few of the more basic things in my books.  If I can make a fine marjolaine or fraisier surely I I’ll be able to manage a cherry cake, lemon drizzle or scones. Let’s see shall we?

I decided to start with a cherry cake.  I used a recipe for English cherry cake from Mary Berry’s Baking Bible.  I had all of the ingredients already so a trip to the shops wasn’t required.  What a relief after the expedition I’d had trying to find yuzu juice. The recipe also only had four instructions.  What could go wrong?

Step one:  I greased and lined my cake tin and put the oven on.

Step Two: I quartered 200g of glacé cherries, rinsed them, drained them and dried them with kitchen paper.  I knew that I had to dry the cherries really well to prevent them sinking to the bottom of the cake.  I had an inkling that I hadn’t done this well enough, but I had used half a roll of Bounty so I decided to stop.

Step three: I sieved self-raising flour and baking power into a bowl, added ground almonds, softened butter, caster sugar and eggs and beat everything together.  Mary Berry’s instructions say you should do this for a minute. She doesn’t say what you should do it with.  A wooden spoon, an electric mixer, the KitchenAid?  I don’t know why , but I used a wooden spoon and beat the mixture until my arm felt as though it was going to spontaneously combust – about 10 seconds.  I had a rest and carried on until I’d accumulated a minute of beating time.  Next time I’ll be using  electricity.

I folded in about two-thirds of the cherries (I was keeping some back to poke into the top since I wasn’t convinced they wouldn’t sink), and poured the mixture into my cake tin.  Once I’d put the rest of the cherries in, my cake looked like this.

Step four:  I put the cake into the oven at 140° Fan.  The baking time in the recipe was 1½ hours at the least, so I watched a couple of episodes of Home and Away and picked up my little boy from school before I checked it.  The cake was cooked but it had sunk in the middle and it looked like all of the cherries, even the ones I’d scattered onto the surface, had sunk to the bottom.  So much for going back to basics.  I double checked that I’d used self-raising flour and baking powder, instead of plain and bicarbonate of soda.  I had.

Mary Berry says that a cake may sink if you’ve put too much or not enough baking powder in (helpful), if the cake was taken out of the oven before it was cooked, or if the oven door was opened before it had time to set. It could also be that the mixture had been over beaten.  The cake was definitely cooked when I checked it, and I hadn’t opened the door at all during the cooking time – I was too engrossed in Home and Away.  I didn’t think that, given my struggle with the wooden spoon,  I could have over beaten the mixture either.  It must have been the baking powder.  Too much or too little I do not know.

Here’s a slice of the finished article.

I don’t think my cake would have got me through “cake week” on the Bake Off, but as a cake with cherries on the bottom it went down very well.  The kids and Jon loved it despite its imperfections.  Staying with the basics for a while might well be a very good idea.  I need the practice.



Mary Berry’s Quick Boiled Fruit Cake

It’s been cold this week, and suddenly, the world seems much scarier.  The answer to a chill in the bones and the feeling that you want to hide under your duvet?  Cake.  A big, solid fruit cake.  The kind that wouldn’t look out of place on Marilla Cuthbert’s table at Green Gables when the Minister came to tea.  Something homely and reassuring.  A cake that says, “everything’s going to be fine.”

I wanted something that wouldn’t take too long.  I didn’t want a cake that I’d have to feed with booze every day for a week before I could cut into it – I’ll save that for Christmas.  I found a recipe for a quick boiled fruitcake in Mary Berry’s Baking Bible.  It shouldn’t take long if the title was anything to go by, and the boiled fruit bit sounded interesting and very Marilla Cuthbert-like.  I decided to give it a try.

The first step was to heat a can of condensed milk, butter, raisins, sultanas, currants and glacé cherries in a pan until the butter had melted.  Condensed milk.  My parents love it.  They say they used to have it on sandwiches.  A condensed milk sandwich?  I can’t quite see it myself. Would you butter the bread first?  How would you cut it?

Anyway, once the butter had melted, I brought the mixture to the boil, simmered for five minutes, then took it off the heat and left it to cool.

I mixed self-raising flour, cinnamon and mixed spice in a bowl, added eggs and the fruit mixture and stirred.  Not well enough I’m afraid, since when I put the batter into my cake tin, there was unincorporated flour all over the place.  I gave it another quick stir while it was in the tin.  Not a step that I’d recommend.

I baked the cake at 130° fan for an 1¾ hours.  It was supposed to be well risen, golden brown, the top should be firm, and a skewer inserted into the middle should come out clean.  I had three out of four (my cake was conker coloured rather than golden brown, but it had been that way for most of the cooking time).  I took it out of the oven, let it cool in the tin for a few minutes and then turned it out.

Here it is

quick boiled fruit cake


It’s a really good fruit cake this.  It doesn’t take too long to make, it isn’t difficult, it’s packed with fruit and warm spice, and it tastes good.  A really comfy cake to see us through these really dark November days.

Mary Berry’s Victorian tennis court cake – nightmare at the net

I didn’t bake anything last week.  We were on holiday.  I came home with the holiday blues and desperate for cake.  I decided to give the technical bake from Victorian Week at the Great British Bake Off a try; a Victorian fruit cake decorated to look like a tennis court.  The decoration may give me some problems, but hey, it was just a fruit cake covered with marzipan and sugarpaste. What could go wrong?  Well, my marzipan hadn’t exactly gone to plan when I tried to make a Battenberg and neither had the last fruit cake I made.  The marzipan had to be put out for the birds, and I had the oven too high for the fruit cake – oh, and I also cooked it for too long when my afternoon power nap didn’t quite work out.

I started the tennis court cake by making marzipan. After the Battenberg, I did successfully make marzipan using a recipe from Delia Smith’s Cakes.  I decided to use it again and, on Monday afternoon, I sieved icing sugar and caster sugar into a bowl, mixed in an egg and whisked the mixture over a pan of simmering water as much as I could for ten minutes.  In my case, this is usually ten second bursts with twenty seconds rest in between.  Once the ten minutes was up, I took the bowl off the heat, put it into cold water and whisked in almond essence and brandy.  When the mixture had cooled, I added ground almonds and kneaded it until I had a paste.  I had quite a lot, much more than I thought I’d need, so I cut it in half, wrapped it in clingfilm and put one half in the fridge and one half in the freezer.

The next thing on the list was the sugarpaste.  I made this on Wednesday.  I couldn’t find a recipe in Mary Berry’s Baking Bible  (BBC Food doesn’t publish the technical challenge recipe until the day after the Bake Off airs, so, although I knew it involved marzipan, sugarpaste and cake I wasn’t sure of the exact recipe).  I found one in a book that I haven’t used before; The Contemporary Cake Decorating Bible by Lindy Smith.  I’m very bad at decorations.  It took me hours to make this Peppa Pig for my daughter’s birthday and it’s rubbish.  Handbag cakes and high-heel cookies aren’t for me.

Lindy Smith’s recipe uses 1kg of icing sugar.  I made a quarter of the recipe.  I sprinkled powdered gelatine over some cold water.  Once the mixture was spongy, I stirred it over a pan of hot water until the gelatine had dissolved.  I’ve never cooked with gelatine before.  It really smells. It has a musty, meaty savoury sort of smell that I’d never associate with cake.  No wonder icing needs so much sugar.  Anyway, I stirred in liquid glucose and glycerine and added this to my icing sugar.  I’m not sure whether too much of my liquid glucose stuck to my measuring cup, whether my quantities were out, or whether I just didn’t have enough patience, but my mixture seemed much too dry.  It wasn’t coming together as a paste at all.  I put some cold water into it, which immediately made the mixture too wet, so I added more icing sugar, then some more, and then some more again until I, eventually, had a mixture I could knead.  Once I had a smooth paste, I added food colouring and kneaded until the sugarpaste was evenly coloured and as green as Centre Court.  I wrapped it in clingfilm and put it into the fridge.

On Thursday BBC Food published the recipe and I made the cake.  The Bake Off contestants made a rectangular cake in some nifty adjustable cake tins.  I don’t have any rectangular tins and I wasn’t going to buy one especially (I had an inkling that I wouldn’t be making a tennis court cake twice in my life).  Luckily, the ingredients for the cake were the same as those for the Victorian Christmas cake recipe in Mary Berry’s Baking Bible which uses a 25cm round tin.  I did have one of those.

I started by lining my tin with a double layer of greaseproof paper, then I prepared the fruit.  I quartered glacé cherries, washed them and dried them thoroughly with kitchen paper so that they wouldn’t sink to the bottom of the cake (I know it was Victorian week, and, apparently, kitchen roll wasn’t invented until 1931, but if the Bake Off contestants weren’t sticking to the tools available to the Victorians – I definitely saw food mixers and electric ovens working overtime on Wednesday evening – neither was I).  I drained a small tin of pineapple, cut the pineapple into chunks and dried them too. I chopped up some dried apricots and almonds and put them into a bowl with the cherries, pineapple, some lemon zest and sultanas.

For the cake batter, I mixed self-raising flour, caster sugar, softened butter, ground almonds and egg in the (non-Victorian) KitchenAid until it was smooth, and then folded in the fruit and nuts.  I scraped the mixture into my tin and, in a first for me, I actually bothered to flatten the top – we were playing tennis and not crown green bowls after all.  The cake went into the oven at 140° for two hours (the recipe in the Baking Bible gives a baking time of two and a quarter hours, but the BBC Food recipe says that two will be enough).  My skewers came out clean after two, oh, and I covered the cake with foil after an hour of baking time so that the top wouldn’t be too dark.  I left the cake to cool in the tin for half an hour, then turned it onto a wire rack and left it overnight.

I was pretty relaxed on Friday.  All I had to do was put the cake together.  I rolled out my marzipan.  There wasn’t enough to cover the top of the cake.  I got the second half of the batch out of the freezer and, wanting to get on with things, I put it into the microwave to defrost.  This worked OK, but the marzipan did get a bit warm in places.  I wasn’t going to make any more, so I rolled it out, cut it into a circle and lifted it onto the cake.

tennis court marzipan

The BBC Food recipe assembles the topping for the cake on a silicon sheet.  I’m not sure why I didn’t do this, but I put the marzipan and sugarpaste on separately.  My sugarpaste was a bit  stretchy once I’d rolled it out, but it flattened onto the cake quite nicely.

I started on the royal icing. The recipe uses one and a half pounds of icing sugar (that’s 675g – but if you say it in pounds it sounds more extravagant).  This seemed a lot to me for piping around the edge of the cake, making a tennis court, a couple of rackets and a net.  Perhaps BBC Food knew something I didn’t.  Anyway, I whisked egg whites and added the icing sugar (sifted, of course) a tablespoon at a time until the mixture was very stiff.

The first thing to do with the royal icing was to pipe the tennis court lines onto the sugarpaste.  The recipe says that you should do this with a number 3 writing nozzle.  I have a piping syringe-type thing and my nozzles don’t have any numbers.  In fact, only one of them seems to be suitable for writing, so I used this for everything expect for the piped borders.  I piped my tennis court onto the cake, and a couple of rackets and the net onto some greaseproof paper.  My tennis court lines were a bit on the wonky side.  They wouldn’t have done for Mary, but were OK for me.

I coloured some of the icing pink, changed the piping nozzle to a star and piped a border around the edge of the cake.  The Bake Off cake had two piped borders but, because my cake was round, I didn’t have the space for two.  All that was left now was to wait for the net and rackets to dry and get them onto the cake.

Maybe my royal icing wasn’t stiff enough, maybe I didn’t leave things to set for long enough, maybe the use number 3 and 2 nozzles are critical in the piping of nets and rackets, but I could not peel the things off the paper to put onto the cake.  I tried a couple more rackets but ended up piping them directly onto the cake.  I had about six attempts at the net – so this was why the recipe had you making a bucket of royal icing.  I tried thicker piping, different patterns with the netting to try and make it more robust, I even tried to make the net in smaller sections which, I thought, were less likely to break.  It was no good.

tennis court netIn the end, to save my sanity and the weekend, we decided just to eat the court final

The cake itself was really good; light, moist and really fruity, a hundred times better than my awful simnel cake.  Jon said that the marzipan tasted a bit funny.  I put that down to its time in the microwave.  It also had a tendency to slide off the top of the cake when it was cut but, then again, the recipe didn’t use any apricot glaze or anything to stick it down so perhaps that isn’t surprising.  I’ll definitely make the fruit cake again, but the vat of royal icing that’s left over is heading straight for the bin.


Marzipan round two – Simnel cake

It’s Mother’s Day in the UK on Sunday so I thought I’d be traditional and make a Simnel cake.  I knew two things about Simnel cake before I made it.  First, it’s the cake that girls in service used to make to take home to their mothers and second, it’s topped with eleven marzipan balls that represent the apostles (not including Judas).  Was it a sponge cake, a fruit cake, who knew?

I found two recipes.  One in Mary Berry’s Baking Bible, and the other in Delia Smith’s Delia’s Cakes. I discovered that Simnel cake is the fruitiest of fruit cakes with marzipan inside as well as on the top.    I decided to go with Delia Smith.  Partly because I haven’t made any of Delia’s recipes for Let’s Bake the Books yet, and partly because the cake involved making marzipan, and I haven’t quite got over the disaster that was my interpretation of Mary Berry’s recipe.

I made the marzipan first.  Delia Smith’s method was completely different to Mary Berry’s.  I had to mix icing sugar and caster sugar with beaten egg and whisk it over a pan of simmering water for ten minutes, or until the mixture was thick and fluffy. My pan kept slipping off the heat and the hob, which is an induction hob, beeped at me each time the pan slid off the hot plate.   Ten minutes of constant hob beeping almost drove me mad.  To add to this,  my whisking arm nearly fell off after two minutes.  Ten was agony.  I wished I had Mrs Patmore’s right arm or, at the least, an electric whisk.  Given that Mrs Patmore isn’t a real person, and I don’t own an electric whisk, I was stuck with my own arm and a balloon whisk.  I don’t know whether the mixture was thick and fluffy enough when the ten minute timer went off, but I do know that I’d had enough.

I took the bowl off the heat and whisked in a few drops of almond extract and a couple of teaspoons of brandy.  I added ground almonds until the mixture came together as a paste.  I found that adding the dry ingredients to the egg mixture worked much better than adding the wet to the dry as I had done when I tried to make marzipan before.  At least I ended up with something I could work with this time.

Workable marzipan - hooray

Workable marzipan – hooray

With a successful batch of marzipan ready to go, I started on the cake.  The ingredients list itself required a bit of work; cutting 225g marzipan into cubes and coating them with flour, roasting and chopping some unblanched almonds, and rinsing, drying and quartering 50g of glace cherries.

The marzipan bit was easy.  Next for the almonds.  I’m going to have a bit of a grumble about the recipe here for a couple of reasons (sorry Delia).  The first is that it didn’t explain what “unblanched” almonds are.  I know that they are unskinned almonds, but only because I’d read it in a different recipe book a few weeks ago.  The second is that the recipe cross-referred to a pistachio and cardamom cake for details of how to roast them.  Would it really be that difficult to add a couple of lines on roasting almonds to the Simnel cake recipe?  After all, unskinned almonds are very different to skinned pistachios, and it is a comfort to the inexperienced baker to be told exactly what to do.  I was in such a huff about it that I totally forgot about the cherries.

At last, I started to make the cake.  I mixed plain flour, baking powder, mixed spice, butter, caster sugar and eggs in the KitchenAid and mixed to a creamy consistency (the recipe says to mix for about a minute with an electric whisk).  Then I mixed in some milk.  The next step was to fold in the fruit (currants, sultanas and glace cherries), the almonds, candied peel, orange and lemon zest, and marzipan into the mixture.  This was when I remembered the cherries.  I couldn’t be bothered to rinse and dry them.  I chopped them up and threw them in.

Once everything was folded in, I put the mixture into a lined cake tin, put some baking paper with a hole in it on top of the tin, and put it in the oven at 150 degrees for the required two hours and forty minutes.  I had some lunch, did some chores and went to sit down for five minutes. I was woken up by the beep of the oven timer.  I dashed into the kitchen and pulled my over-cooked Simnel cake out of the oven.  How long the timer had been going off I had no idea.  I decided to carry on and decorate the cake.  Even an overcooked effort will get eaten in our house.

Delia uses sugared primroses to decorate her Simnel cake instead of the traditional marzipan balls.  I wanted the traditional decoration so, at this point, I turned to Mary Berry and the Baking Bible and found out that, according to Mary, my oven temperature had been too high.  It should have been 130 degrees because I use a fan oven.  I know that the temperature for a fan oven should be 20 degrees lower than the conventional oven temperature.  I know this,  so why I didn’t  set mine to 130 I have no idea.  I didn’t feel quite so guilty about my cheeky nap now anyway. The cake would have been over-cooked even if I hadn’t been asleep.

Once the cake was cool, I brushed the top with warm apricot jam and covered it with marzipan and my eleven apostles.  I put it under the grill for a few minutes and it came out looking like this.


Perhaps it could have done with a couple more minutes under the grill, and I could definitely do with a few lessons in crimping, but it didn’t look too bad at all.

The cake was a bit on the dry side, but I knew it would be because of the oven temperature (and the rest).  My homemade marzipan was good although it could have taken a bit more almond essence.  Compared to my last batch, it was a triumph.  I think, if baked at the right temperature, this cake would be great, especially for a celebration.  It’s absolutely loaded with fruit and other lovely stuff.  I probably will try again and, next time, I’ll remember that Delia’s oven temperatures are for conventional ovens and I’ll at least try to stay awake.